Friday, May 25, 2007

If It's Friday It Must Be Eggplant

Eggplant reminds me of Trebbiano. Neither is particularly distinctive. Both are rather ubiquitous around the Mediterranean. They often get paired with other more powerful partners, like garlic or oak. One can find many variations of either, from pureed to roasted, barrel fermented to distilled. It seems many people don’t understand either too well, and along with that goes a dearth of appreciation. But dependable and always ready are both of these workhorses in the Italian stable.

I absolutely love eggplant. It is my comfort food; it is the ingredient that I have spent more time working with in the kitchen than any other. Except, possibly, eggs. In fact, the two in combination would often make a meatless Friday meal, for the observant ones.

Looking at wine, Trebbiano has been my silent friend. Always fresh and affordable, never in fashion. Not cool enough to be a Pinot Grigio or trendy enough to be a Grillo. It missed the Riesling wave of popularity, and never quite found the audience a Chardonnay has. It rarely aspires to greatness, although there are ones out there that get a lot of buzz.
So these two jilted items, do we think they care? Do they know we think?

Last month, I brought eggplant seeds back from Italy, called Black Beauty. They grow into wonderful big bottomed plants. Today, in my garden, they shuddered under the torrent of rain that pelted their young frames. If they make it through the next 30 days, we should be able to harvest a good crop.

More and more, I am less interested in what people think Italian food and wine is. I relish the stories that have been handed down. My aunt Elvira, in Calabria, told me the story of our way with eggplant. She testified with a fire and a skillet. What she passed along to me 30 years ago, was part of our family’s culinary history. It was wonderful to see her cousin Amelia, my aunt in Texas, who also had a way with the black beauty. These two, who never met each other, knew each other through their eggplant heritage. And I was lucky to witness both of them working in the kitchen.

Likewise with Trebbiano. There was a man in Grottammare, Dottore Spinelli, who passed his knowledge along to a young winemaker in Abruzzo, Claudio Capellacci. In the locality of Controguerra, he passed the torch of his passion to the young man. It was like a lightning bolt. History of countless generations of winemaking transmitted to the up and coming adults.

Dottore Spinelli was a wonderful man. He had a Ray Bolger-like head, shaped like a grape. When he drank wine his head would turn red from the top, like a sunset. Over the evening his head would become almost beet red, and he would tell stories that had been handed down from previous generations. That was how wine was, and is, made. Without the stories we wouldn’t have the map. The road to discovery is taken with the help of the ones who went before.

One night Dottore Spinelli was coming down the hill from Controguerra in Abruzzo, back to his home in Grottammare. He was with his wife of many years. They were in their little Lancia and missed one of the hairpin turns in the dark night of the country. It was an accident that only one of them recovered from. He lost his partner and the love of his life. After that, it was only a matter of time; he lost the will to go on.

How will you be remembered? Is there a wine you have made into a wonderful masterpiece? Or a recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation? Will someone mourn your passing, missing your touch and your laugh? What will you contribute to the carousel of humanity, on this tiny little planet off in the corner of a minor galaxy? Trebbiano and eggplant, even if they are misunderstood on a daily basis, have left a legacy.

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